I was in college when the planes hit the towers, studying that Tuesday morning before class in the student union. The woman who ran the student snack bar and I were the only people there, and together we watched the second plane hit on live TV.
At that moment, my stomach dropped. After the first plane hit, no one really knew what was going on, whether a small aircraft had accidentally crashed into the tower or if it had been an explosion or something else. But when that second plane hit, we knew. This wasn’t an accident. Someone had planned this. It was an attack. Suddenly, we were at war.
In the months and years that followed, my classmates and I tried to wrap our minds around what we thought was coming: a generational struggle against jihadist networks that seemed to span the globe, that had even infiltrated the United States. We all read Samuel P. Huntington’s “The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order.” We all scoffed at Francis Fukuyama’s notion of the “end of history.” We thought the United States was the only power capable of stamping out Islamic terrorism. We assumed there would be many more attacks on the homeland.
Twenty years after the attacks of September 11, 2001, it’s safe to say they did not herald the defining, all-consuming civilizational struggle we had anticipated. The thing we most feared, Islamic terrorism, did not prove to be our worst enemy or the greatest threat to our republic. The real enemy, it turns out, came from within.
In the 20 years since the attacks, America’s own totalitarian left has proven to be a far more dangerous and committed enemy of the United States than any distant jihadists, harboring as much hatred for our heritage of freedom and chaotic way of life as Osama bin Laden ever did.
Christopher Hitchens famously described bin Laden’s animating ideology as, “fascism with an Islamic face,” later adopting the apt term, “Islamofascism.” Hitchens thought the fascist comparison appropriate because both movements, in his view, are murderous cults, hostile to modernity and the life of the mind, nostalgic for empires of past glory, and obsessed with past humiliations and a desire for revenge, among other things.
But the fascism of bin Laden and his ilk, while obviously dangerous (and likely to become more so after our utter defeat in Afghanistan), hasn’t proved as durable or tangible as the fascism of the Democratic Party under the Biden administration.
As I write, the president is announcing a plan to force all federal workers to get a COVID-19 shot, and major employers to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations for their workers or test them weekly, with crippling fines for those who don’t comply.
“This is not about freedom or personal choice,” said Biden. Indeed it’s not. It’s about total federal control over what the administrative state has come to view as its subjects, not citizens to whom it must answer. In the tyrannical worldview of the president and his advisors, nothing can stand in the way of government coercion, not even federalism. “If these governors won’t help,” said Biden, “I will use my powers as president and get them out of the way.”
Bin Laden, who correctly foresaw disaster and eventual defeat for the invading Americans in Afghanistan, could not have guessed that by the 20th anniversary of 9/11, America’s ruling elite would have become this fascist. Indeed, when a regime uses the power of the state to compel major corporations to enforce its mandates and enact its agenda, that’s actual textbook fascism. Hitchens, if he were alive to see it, might have called it “fascism with a bureaucrat’s face,” or “bureaufascism.”
Biden’s vaccine mandate is of course just one example, plucked from yesterday’s news cycle, of the left’s hatred of America and the freedom of its people. Over the past year-and-a-half of the pandemic, we have witnessed an unprecedented expansion of rule by executive fiat, with governors and mayors and public health officials wielding powers too often directed against churches and independent businesses. The 9/11 hijackers hated our freedoms, to be sure, but the pandemic has revealed that the left hates those freedoms at least as much as the terrorists, and would like very much to stamp them out.
Like the hijackers, the left holds almost everything about America in contempt. We are told in our workplaces — and our children are taught in their schools — that the United States is irredeemably racist, founded on violence, and that our constitutional experiment amounts to nothing more than a massive crime. We are called upon to repudiate our past and pull down monuments to our forebears — not just Confederate generals but also our Founding Fathers.
We are instructed that men can be women if they so choose, and those who disagree should probably lose their jobs and be ostracized. If you object to your daughter being forced to compete in school sports with boys who claim to be girls, you’re a bigot who must be silenced.
The reductive, totalizing ideology of the left has seeped into nearly every institution of American life, and dominates our culture and our politics. It is profoundly anti-American, and in the final analysis, it is a far greater threat to the future of our republic than even the wildest plots and most murderous fantasies of all the world’s jihadists combined.
When it comes to tearing down America, brick by brick, the Islamofascists of 9/11 had nothing on those who now command the heights of our culture, and purport to rule us from Washington.